ASk A Researcher

February 2013

Learn about the powerful data resource known as the American Community Survey (ACS)

Karen Olson, North Dakota Compass

photoCompass researcher Karen Olson provides background regarding one of the best federal data sources available for comprehensive social and economic information, especially for less-populated, rural areas.

Approximately 22,000 children living in North Dakota are impoverished. Approximately one in four North Dakota households spend 30 percent or more of their household income on housing costs. This information, available through ND Compass, comes from the American Community Survey (ACS), a Census Bureau poll sent to 3.5 million U.S. households each year. The knowledge obtained from this survey helps target federal, state, and local government spending on those who need it most.

Because so much important planning occurs at the community level (schools, transportation systems, housing), having annual data is vital for individuals in smaller rural and urban communities to make data-driven decisions. Here at North Dakota Compass, we use the ACS data extensively to assist community and state leaders, nonprofits, and educators make the necessary decisions to move North Dakota forward.

So, what is the American Community Survey?
The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) is part of the constitutionally required decennial census.  Historically, the census was conducted in two parts: the short form which counted the population and the long form which contained detailed questions regarding social and economic conditions.  This long form became the prominent source of detailed data (e.g., educational attainment, poverty, income, occupation, housing) for large and small communities across the nation – a boon for researchers and policy makers everywhere.  However, since the data were collected just every 10 years, the data became less and less representative as the decade progressed.

The Census Bureau responded to this challenge by designing the ACS, a new data collection system to replace the traditional long form, which was fully implemented in 2006 (see detailed information regarding the ACS).

The Census Bureau uses a series of monthly samples to produce annually updated ACS data for the same geographic areas surveyed via the decennial census long form.  The Census Bureau uses a three-tiered data collection process for the ACS.  Geographic areas of at least 65,000 people are large enough to produce reliable period estimates after 12 months of data collection.  In contrast, geographic areas of 20,000 to 65,000 people require 36 months of data collection, and areas smaller than 20,000 people require 60 months of continuous data collection to produce reliable estimates. 

It is important to understand that ACS data capture events that occur over a period of time (i.e., one, three, or five years) rather than a single point in time.  This can be a challenge if the characteristic being examined is dynamic or fluctuates from year to year.  Another important consideration is that most North Dakota geographies (e.g., counties, cities, townships, reservations, neighborhoods) have fewer than 20,000 people and require five years of data collection. 

However, these challenges should not diminish the opportunity the data provide in creating a richer understanding of North Dakota residents and communities.

To assist us in using and interpreting ACS data, the Census Bureau has put together a series of handbooks, each focusing on a specific data user (e.g., businesses, researchers, teachers, congress, the media, and any user of data). 

Explore ACS data on ND Compass:
Cost-burdened households
Disability data
Educational attainment
Health care coverage
Homeownership rate
Median income
Poverty
Proportion of adults working

Ask a researcher archive

Mariel Lopez-Valentin and Grace Njau. North Dakota Title X, Family Planning Needs Assessment
January 2022

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. North Dakota Lignite Energy Industry Workforce
December 2021

Ina Cernusca. Vaccine Acceptance and Hesitancy in North Dakota
October 2021

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Rural Communities Will Benefit from a New Cooperative in Walsh County
September 2021

Matt Schmidt and Grace Njau. COVID-19 Trends Among North Dakota Children, March 2020 – March 2021
August 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter and Ina Cernusca. COVID Hardship on North Dakota Households: New study on the impacts on North Dakota households that lost employment income during the pandemic
July 2021

Chelsey Hukriede and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. NEW! PRAMS Points – A Brief Infographic using North Dakota PRAMS Survey Data
May 2021

North Dakota Compass: A look inside the 2021 Compass Points
April 2021

Ina Cernusca: Households with children are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
March 2021

Ina Cernusca: Differences in COVID-19 Risk Factors at District Level
February 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter, Chelsey Hukriede, and Grace Njau: An Introduction to the North Dakota Study of Associated Risks of Stillbirth (SOARS)
October 2020

Karen Ehrens: North Dakota Families are Facing Food and Other Hardships in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic, and Helpers Respond
September 2020

Ina Cernusca: Taking the pulse of North Dakota households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 2020

Nancy Hodur:Challenges of Grocery Stores in Rural North Dakota
May 2020

North Dakota Compass:2020 Compass Points: Measuring progress. Inspiring action.
March 2020

Amy Tichy:Student Veterans in the College Classroom.
February 2020

North Dakota Compass:North Dakota Compass launches the 2020 State Legislative District Profiles
January 2020

Grace Njau, Nancy Hodur:&Chelsey Hukriede: Risk Behaviors among Women with a Recent Live Birth in North Dakota: Findings from the 2017 North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
November 2019

Ina Cernusca:& Karen Olson: Behind the scenes – The story of the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles
October 2019

Ina Cernusca: Key demographic trends in North Dakota.
August 2019

Karen Olson: The 30th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book finds that 175,772 children will shape the future of a more diverse North Dakota.
July 2019

Shweta Arpit Srivastava & Dr. Ann Burnett: “Giving rope and pulling it back”: Parental dilemmas to prevent adolescent substance use
June 2019

Ina Cernusca: 2019 Compass Points: Setting direction for improving the quality of life in North Dakota
May 2019

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom: Learning from Fargo -- An Exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
March 2019

Nancy Hodur: Improving Oral Health for Older Adults in North Dakota
November 2018

Rachelle Vettern: Engaging Volunteers across Generations
October 2018

Karen Olson: The 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book reveals strengths and challenges for children in North Dakota – and emphasizes that an inaccurate census in 2020 threatens to worsen existing challenges for North Dakota youth
July 2018

Lori Capouch: Is food access a concern in rural North Dakota?
May 2018

Deb Nelson: Williston Basin 2016: Employment, Population, and Housing Forecasts – An Overview
January 2018

Karen Olson: North Dakota among Top 10 States in Country for Child Well-Being
July 2017

Nancy Hodur: SEAL!North Dakota: A School Dental Sealant Program
June 2017

Grace Njau: A Brief Introduction to the North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
April 2017

Ina Cernusca: North Dakota’s Women study: A brief overview
March 2017

Dean Bangsund: Effects of Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion on Spring Planting for Producers
February 2017

Deb Nelson: Vision West: Leading, Educating, and Collaborating to Mobilize the 19 Western North Dakota Counties Towards Resilience and Prosperity
December 2016

Nancy Hodur: North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: A Brief Overview of the Population and Housing Forecast component
November 2016

Social Isolation: Experiential Narratives of African Refugee Women in the Fargo-Moorhead Community
September 2016

Sean Brotherson: Father Involvement and the Future of Children and Families
July 2016

Carol Cwiak: Bakken Oil: What Have We Learned and What Will We Do Differently Next Time
June 2016

Jessica Creuzer: The Changing Face of Western North Dakota: What are the Effects of Increased Travel from Energy Development
April 2016

ND Compass: City Profiles
February 2016

ND Department of Health: Making Change Happen
January 2016

Jennifer Weber: A Bold New Direction for the North Dakota University System - The NDUS Edge Dashboards
December 2015

Wendy Troop-Gordon: What Has Science Taught Us About Bullying?
November 2015

ND Compass: A Look at the Youngest North Dakotans
October 2015

Kendra Erickson-Dockter: Growing Older in North Dakota
September 2015

Michael Ziesch: Data You Can Trust: The Labor Market Information Center
August 2015

Malini Srivastava and Troy Raisanen: efargo: City Scale Sustainability
July 2015

Kevin Iverson: The State Repository of Census Information- The North Dakota Census
June 2015

Wonwoo Byun: Reducing Sedentary Behavior is a Key for Obesity Prevention in Children
May 2015

Kathryn Gordon: The Science of Suicide Prevention
April 2015

ND Compass: Tell a Story with Data! The Importance of Crade-to-Career Success
March 2015

Abby Gold: Community Food Systems: Food Charters and More
February 2015

Heather Fuller-Iglesias: The Importance of Recognizing the Role of Social Support in Human Development Across the Lifespan
January 2015

Michael Carbone: Using Data to End Homelessness
December 2014

Randal Coon: Tribal Colleges Contribute to the State's Economy
November 2014

Deb White: Women's Representation in Elected Office
October 2014

Randal Coon: Pull Factors Measure Retail Trade Performance
September 2014

Karen Olson: North Dakota ranks Well Nationally with Regard to Overall Child Well-Being; However, Substantial Opportunities for Improvement Exist
August 2014

Julie Garden-Robinson: Guard Against Grilling Gaffes: Healthy Grilling and Food Safety Tips
July 2014

Michael Noone: Extreme Weather Patterns- North Dakota Has It All
June 2014

Kathleen Tweeten: Why All Community Development Decisions Should Use the Community Capitals Framework
May 2014

Clayton Hilmert: Stress effects on pregnancy: The impact of the 2009 Red River flood on birth weight
April 2014

Karen Ehrens: Food Deserts and how they impact North Dakota
March 2014

Gretchen Dobervich and Kendra Erickson-Dockter: New Geographic Profiles: How they can work for you
February 2014

Compass Staff: "New Compass Team Brings Changes in 2014"
January 2014

Donna Grandbois: "Fargo-Moorhead American Indian Community-Sponsored Health Needs Assessment"
November 2013

Karen Olson: "North Dakota KIDS COUNT - why it counts for you
October 2013

Nancy Hodur: "Western North Dakota School Administrators Face Challenges"
August 2013

Megan Chmielewski: "Annual population estimates tell interesting stories about North Dakota's growth patterns"
July 2013

Ramona Danielson: "Learn how to make the ND Compass website work for you"
May 2013

Karen Olson: "About the American Community Survey (ACS)"
February 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2022. All rights reserved.